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JLJCi 1 ^JtX W \JJv 1 Jtl
Garden City 1898
a town built on a book
"In these days of strong party feeling and of keenly con-
tested social and religious issues, it might perhaps be thought
difficult to find a single question having a vital bearing upon
national life and well-being on which all persons, no matter
of what political party, or of what shade of sociological
opinion, would be found to be fully and entirely agreed."
So begins the book To-morrow: a Peaceful Path to Real
Reform by Ebenezer Howard, published by Swan Sonnen-
schein & Q). Ltd, London, in 1898. Within four years this
remarkable book, renamed Garden Cities of To-morroWy had
run to its third edition, and had caused the formation of the
Garden Qty Pioneer Company Limited on 16 July 1902.
The book contained plans and diagrams of the ideal
Garden City". On the comer of "First Avenue" and
Milton Road" in this geometrical ideal, there is a printing
works; facing the town hall across the garden in "Central
Park" there is the library.
First Garden Qty Ltd was registered on i September
1903, being "formed to develop an estate of about 3,800
acres, between Hitchin and Baldock".
In November of that year, " as no premises were at that
time available on the estate. The Garden Qty Press Ltd
commenced business in Bancroft, Hitchin, on premises
situated in the tanyard of Messrs Geo. W. Russell & Son. It
was here that the first newspaper connected with the estate
was published, but its birth proved premature, and after an
existence of a few months it was laid to rest."
The construction of Letchworth Garden City began in the
spring of the following year, and in November 1905, with
the opening of their new printing works in Pixmore Avenue,
The Garden City Press Ltd became the pioneers of the
town's industries. It is interesting to note that this company
was established as a co-partnership which flourished until
1 91 7 when the majority of the 'partners' had been called up
for war service.
Development of the first Garden Qty proceeded rapidly,
and the need for cultural and social contacts among the new
garden citi2ens found many forms of expression. On Whit
Monday 1906 Mr Arthur Bates opened a small lending
library in an ante-room of the Mrs Howard Memorial Hall,
barely a month old, in Norton Way South. At first the
entire stock consisted of review copies of the works of
Charles Dickens and Sir Walter Scott, bought with a dona-
tion of £5 from Mr Howard D. Pearsall. To start with, the
library was open only on Saturdays, but as stock and demand
increased, it began to open for one hour on three evenings
each week, and it was manned entirely by voluntary help.
On I August 1906 the firm of Wheeler, Odell & Co.,
printers, was established, and on that date the first number
of the hetchworth Magazine was published from their tem-
porary premises in Green Lane, under the joint editorship of
Mr Charles B. Purdom and Mr Fred J. Cole. This was fol-
lowed on 22 September 1906 by the first number of the
Citiz^y edited by Mr W. H. Knight, to be succeeded in the
second number by Mr Arthur William Brunt who remained
editor until 191 2.
August also saw the start of the building of the Temple
Press, a printing and bookbinding factory for J. M. Dent &
Sons Ltd, the book publishers who, following the success of
their new Everyman's Library, had decided to transfer their
bindery from London.
By July 1907 no fewer than five printers and publishers
were included in the first edition of the Ijetchworth Garden
City Directory, The newcomers included the Arden Press, a
Leamington firm with an established reputation for fine
book printing, and the binding department of the book-
sellers W. H. Smith & Son, under the control of Mr
Douglas Cockerell, an expert of world-wide celebrity.
Smith's acquired control of the Arden Press in the following
year, but all their Letchworth buildings were taken over by
the Ministry of Munitions during the First World War.
Another change came in 191 1, with the conversion of
Wheeler, Odell & Co. to Letchworth Printers Ltd, amid the
growing demands for the printed word from the rapidly
increasing population of the town.
Next year the proposal was made that the four-year-old
parish council should become a library authority by adopting
the Public Libraries Act. This was defeated by an opposition
led by the Letchworth barrister Dr Mervyn Gilbart-Smith,
who felt that the town's economy could not then support a
library, even with the help of the Carnegie United Kingdom
Nevertheless, three years later the Letchworth Book Club
came into being as an appendage to the library, as a result of
a meeting held at Dr Gilbart-Smith's house. Under this
scheme many Letchworth residents who had more than two
hundred books of their own made them available for loan
through the lending library. There was a central catalogue,
compiled by Dr Gilbart-Smith himself, of the six thousand
books involved in this scheme, which attracted some atten-
tion as a forerunner in miniature of the national inter-library
loan service of today. The club's income was made up from
subscriptions, weekly payments for books, and fines.
The year after the war, with the Garden Qty's population
up to 10,000, Letchworth Urban District Council came into
existence, and the demand for new Ubrary accommodation
brought about the acquisition of a room over Mr R. W.
Smith's joiner's workshop in Commerce Lane.
Through the initiative of the Rev. Dugald Macfadyen a
larger room over two shops in Commerce Avenue was
erected, and inaugurated by a lecture on Shelley given by a
well-known Hertfordshire resident, Mr George Bernard
A co-educational school, "in keeping with the spirit and
outlook of the Garden Qty", had been established in
Letchworth in the earliest days, and in 191 6 the printing
craft which originated as a subject for senior pupils was of
such a standard that a separate concern was formed, and
St Christopher Press took its place in the industrial life of
the town. Both Miss A. J. Lawrence and Mr A. W. Brunt
offered a great deal of practical help and encouragement to
Utcbwtrtb PMil Ubrary
the young early enthusiasts at the Cloisters private press.
The same year saw the re-establishment, in Letchworth,
of a bookbinding business under Mr Douglas Cockerell:
this time a private bindery at his own house in Norton Way
South, with his sons. Douglas Cockerell "had probably
more influence on bookbinding practice and design than
any one man has had before ". So wrote Roger Powell, him-
self a partner at Letchworth for some years, in the Dictionary
of National biography.
Wireless aerials were appearing on roofs in Letchworth as
elsewhere, and there were predictions of decline in the
importance of the printed word. Yet still the popular
demand for reading matter continued to grow, and in 1924
the Public Libraries Act was adopted by Hertfordshire
Coimty Council. No immediate effect was seen in letch-
worth, although in the following year the Urban District
Coimcil itself became an official library authority with the
adoption of the Act. An arrangement was made to take a
loan collection of three thousand books — ^to be changed
twice yearly— from the new Hertfordshire County Library,
and in 1927 a collection of reference books was purchased
by the town council and housed at the Museum.
Letchworth Library and Book Club continued to flourish
in the Commerce Avenue premises, lending books for a
small sum per week in a similar way to the various commer-
cial libraries in the town. Colonel J. M. Mitchell, secretary
of the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust, remarked that the
library service in Letchworth was very much better than
could be provided in the ordinary way upon the rateable
value of the town. Such was the result of the combined
efforts of the residents who made their private collections
available and the devoted service of the volimtary librarians,
notably Mrs Dugald Macfadyen ink Edith Bates), who had
assisted her father, Mr Arthur Bates, from the library's
beginning in 1906.
For its silver jubilee celebrations, Letchworth Library
again welcomed Bernard Shaw, speaking on this occasion on
"Libraries and the English Language". A "Young Folks'
Library" extension was opened by Mrs Reginald Hine in
1934. But the limitations of the book club scheme were
becoming more apparent as industry in the town developed.
The need to supply up-to-date scientific and technical
information was a strong factor in the decision of the Urban
District Council to appoint a full-time librarian. Miss M. N.
Dale, in 1935, and to undertake the building of the new
Public Library, which was opened by Mrs Dugald
Macfadyen on 6 January 1939.
The new building included a lecture hall on the first floor,
but within a year of the opening this was requisitioned as a
billeting office, and remained in this use until after the
Second World War.
The town continued to make a contribution to Hertford-
shire County Council, in return for which the circulating
stock was maintained in addition to the Urban Council's
own stock of 16,000 books.
At the outbreak of the Second World War Readers
Union, a subsidiary company of J. M. Dent & Sons, moved
its accounts, distribution office and warehouse to Letch-
worth. Since then it has extended its activities by taking
under its wing The Country, Sportsmans, Soccer, Science
Fiction, Jazz, and Contemporary Fiction Book Clubs. These
clubs supply to their members at privilege prices special
editions of books which have been originally published at
a higher price.
The Garden Qty Press Ltd, which had expanded its book
and journal printing and binding activities through the
years, incorporated at Letchworth the work and many of
the employees of their parent company Loxley Brothers Ltd,
whose London premises had been destroyed by enemy action.
The world-famed bindery of the Cockerells lost its
founder on 25 November 1945, but his son, Mr Sydney
Cockerell, continued production at Letchworth until he
moved house and business to Grantchester nineteen years
Post-war expansion began, significantly, with the estab-
lishing of yet another printing firm in Letchworth, The
Hive Printers Ltd, which is one of the smallest but one of
the busiest in the Garden Qty. Plans for the expansion of
Letchworth northwards into the "Grange estate" took
shape; and demands on the library service grew with the
effects of the 1944 Education Act, changes in leisute and
living standards, and the stimulus of radio, cinema and the
newly restored television service.
Letchworth's final break with the County Library came
in 1947, when the town library's own stock was large
enough to end the "loam** collection. That September,
"Qiildren's Book Week" was celebrated, with visits from
several well-known authors making it still more popular
than the first such week, two years earlier. Widening the
scope to include adults, the '^Book Week'' of March 1949
was opened by Miss Monica Dickens; and in accepting an
invitation, Mr Robert Gibbings wrote: "'I feel that I owe
so much in the production of my books to Letchworth, that
I could not possibly ask a higher fee, and I gladly accept the
terms you suggest."
In 1953, the year of Letchworth's golden jubilee, the
Public Library had a stock of 21,000 books, and an annual
issue of 152,000. In December, Miss Dale resigned on
leaving the town, and her deputy, Mr A. B. Drylie, became
her successor, until he resigned in 1956, when the present
librarian, Mr J. D. Scruby, was appointed.
This same year saw the beginning of greater extensions to
the North Hertfordshire Technical College (later renamed
Letchworth CoUege of Technology), and the beginning of a
new phase of library service for the area, with the close and
increasing co-operation "without strings " of the college and
As these changes took place, the golden jubilee in 1956 of
the library service in Letchworth passed unobserved.
Concern was now for further expansion, to keep pace with
the demands of the town's population, still only 70 per cent
of the planned maximum. A small branch library for chil-
dren was opened in Southfields in November 1957. Mr
C. M. Crickmer, architect of the original building, was
responsible for designing extensions to the Public Library
and to the adjacent Museum, and these were opened by Sir
Sydney Roberts in November 1962. It was a significant
time in the history of Letchworth, for throughout that year
local opinions had been imited in the successful campaign
to bring about the Letchworth Garden City Corporation
Act, which came into force on i January 1963, removing
control of the town from First Garden Qty Ltd and its new
board of directors.
This was also celebrated as the diamond jubilee year of
Letchworth, and at sixty-plus, the Garden City seemed to
be nearing the completeness of its community shape, not
so unrecognizably different from that envisaged by Ebenezer
A new branch library was opened at the Grange Com-
munity Centre in 1965, and some thought was given to the
future possibility of another, to serve the rapidly growing
^* Jackmans estate" in the south-east of the town, a develop-
ment of the most advanced ideas of "neighbourhood
planning", which added one more facet to the imique
character of Letchworth.
This town "built on a book" today houses some 27,000
people and eighty industries, from steelfounding to swim-
suits; and still die best represented trade is that of the
printer and binder. Books printed in Letchworth are read
all over the world, and recent years have seen the remarkable
success of new and unique specialist publishing concerns,
such as Harlejrford Publications, with their authoritative
series on aviation history, and Bradda Books, publishers of
Russian educational works.
Dent's great output includes their remarkable Everyman's
Library, and Everyman's Encyclopaedia^ to which many local
people have contributed. A Letchworth resident, Mr John
Armitage, is the British editor of a still more renowned
work. Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Reference and information services are developing fast,
particularly through HERTIS, the County Library's Tech-
nical Information Service, to which Letchworth has access
through the College of Technology. The stock of the
college library itself is around 15,000 books, with approxi-
mately 400 periodicals.
But still Letchworth homes house treasured private col-
lections, such as the Sassoon Collection of Hebrew manu-
scripts and early printed books, and Mr Kenneth Coram's
collection of children's books covering the past two
Three bookshops flourish in the town today: a branch of
W. H. Smith & Son in Leys Avenue (opened in 1907),
George BoUen in Station Road (opened in 1946), and
David's Bookshop in Station Place (opened in 1963). And
even though the small commercial library is almost a thing
of the past, one was recently opened by Mrs Rhodes — ^in
a room over R. W. Smith's workshop in Commerce Lane I
Of the future of the library service, much depends on the
Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, which makes the
provision of a comprehensive and efficient library service
the duty of every library authority, and may cause changes in
the status of some library authorities of less than 40,000
Letchworth's planned maximum population is 32,000 —
extended in the more recent County Plan to 34,000. The
Public Library's annual issue of books is now nearing the
400,000 mark; its stock, 60,000; but it remains to be seen
how the library service of the first Garden City will stand
in relation to the wider aspects of county and regional
development. One thing is certain, that the garden citizens'
personal interest in the production, reading and enjoyment
of books will continue. *
A SHORT BIBLIOGRAPHY
Howard, Ebenezer. Garden Cities of To-morrow (Edited by
F. J. Osbom). Faber, 1946 edition.
Purdon, C.B, The Garden City, Dent, 191 3.
Purdom, C.B. The Building of Satellite Towns. Dent, two
editions, 1925 and 1949.
Brunt, A. W. Pageant of Tuetchwortb.
Macfadyen, Dugaid. Sir Ebenezer Howard and the Town
Planning Movement^ 1933.
Furmston, W. G. Ancestral Jottings. i94(?).
Purdom, CB. Ufe Over Again. 195 1.
Psihlished by the local
National Library Week Committee
and printed and presented by members of
the Ijetchworth Master Printers* Association